Child Trends: A National Leader in Research on Improving the Lives of Children and Youth

Child Trends is a leading research organization in the United States that is focused on improving the lives of children and youth, especially those who are most vulnerable. The Child Trends team includes over 200 staff members dedicated to groundbreaking research and expertise spanning all facets of child well-being and all developmental stages. We spoke with Carol Emig, president of Child Trends since 2006, to learn about the organization, which is based in the Washington, DC area.

IS: Tell us about your organization’s mission.                                                                                                                 

Carol Emig

CE: Child Trends is the only research organization in the country focused entirely on improving the lives of children and youth covering all stages of life from prenatal to the transition to adulthood. It’s research that’s actionable. We want it to be used effectively by policymakers at different levels, nonprofits, and childcare and education providers to improve outcomes for children and youth. We spot data that is emerging and important to know, sometimes upending conventional wisdom.

Our research emphasizes a focus on children of color, and the impact of racism and discrimination shows up in everything we do. We cannot provide the research that we do without addressing the significant impact of income inequality on children. Recently, we are seeing a greater acceptance of that fact, but I would not say from everyone – there is still a lot of work to do.

IS: What are some of your organization’s core programs that help your stakeholders to serve children and their families?

CE: One of our largest areas of work is in early childhood. We are well known for our expertise on access to quality childcare and data on young children. Child Trends works at multiple levels including the community, state, and federal levels for measuring how young children are doing. This includes helping states integrate their systems and data for a more holistic picture of young children in particular communities. Our work also prioritizes socio-emotional wellbeing and a safer and more supportive environment for children.

Photo courtesy of Child Trends

Our other areas of work include:

  • Youth development – out-of-school time programs, school-and community-based interventions, workforce training programs for youth and young adults.
  • Reproductive health and family formation – teen pregnancy prevention programs and supporting marriage and strong and healthy relationships both inside and outside of marriage.
  • Child welfare – foster care and adoption system. When young people are aging out of foster care, that is a particularly perilous time of transition without the support of family.
  • Kinship care – grandparents caring for children often outside of the child welfare system. We expect to see interest and research in this area increase.
  • Juvenile justice system – an emerging area of work for us, related to the childhood adversity and trauma many youth in the juvenile justice [system] have experienced.
  • Child Tends Hispanic Institute – Hispanic children are the fastest-growing group of children in the nation’s population, but they have the highest high school dropout rate and second highest child poverty rate. However, this group also has a lot of strengths with families focused on enrollment in both Pre-K and college and those rates are increasing.
  • National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families – they are a federally funded center, but we are one of their partners. They provide cutting-edge research on low-income Hispanic families.

We are also looking forward to spring 2022 when we will be launching new center on child poverty and child solutions, using U.S. Census Bureau customized data to inform policy directives regarding child poverty.

IS: Why did your organization decide to become an Independent Sector member? How does your work intersect with Independent Sector’s mission and our member organizations?

CE: We are looking forward to connecting more deeply with other IS members, and I hope our research can inform the work of other member organizations, and in turn, we seek to learn from other members. The help that IS provided in the aftermath of the Trump’s administration’s executive orders was very valuable. We do receive government funding (approximately 60% of our budget). So, this was a concern for us.

I appreciate Dan Cardinali’s [Independent Sector’s President and CEO] leadership – he is really a visionary for the sector.

While we may differ from other nonprofits because we don’t provide direct services, we play a really important intermediary role. Just as we share information with nonprofit service providers, we also provide information with government entities who fund a lot of nonprofit services.

Our work requires that we have the trust of the field, and I am confident that we do. Trust of people on both sides of the political spectrum can be harder to maintain, but we keep at it.

IS: What is one of the most memorable moments that has occurred at your organization in which you realized that it contributed to a healthy and equitable society?

CE: In the first six months following the onset of the pandemic in the U.S., the Child Trends team produced 24 products of specific COVID-related guidance to state agencies, front-line staff, and parents. Our staff jumped in response to a national crisis following the pandemic and the acceleration of the racial justice movement. This time exposed the holes in the safety net, and we saw our products used in state after state; for example, in state guidance for child case workers and in resources to parents to help children deal with trauma.

We even had resources co-branded with the National Conference of State Legislators; it was really powerful to see that being disseminated. The products on our website related to the COVID response include those focused specifically on equity issues and equity is also woven into other products.

IS: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CE: For those of us in the children and youth field, this is a rare historic moment where child wellbeing is in focus. Childcare is being reimagined, schools are reopening, educators are thinking more about socio-emotional needs as part of education, and the juvenile justice systems has been upended.

I’m encouraged by the anti-racist perspective taking hold. This is our moment, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

Learn about other Independent Sector members and becoming a member.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: ChangeWorks, Community, Data, Public Policy, Race, Equity, and Inclusion
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion